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Stick to Sports Era ‘Appears To Be Over’ At ESPN

“ESPN personalities like Maria Taylor, Elle Duncan, and Booger McFarland have been free to talk about their experiences with racism and share their opinions on current situations.”

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Richard Deitsch reached to miltiple current and former ESPN air talents for his “Media Matters” column this week for The Athletic. He asked what they have heard from management about the transparency and conviction they are allowed to speak with about the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests.

“The stick to sports on the field era appears to be over,” Deitsch quotes one unnamed but “well-known ESPN talent” as saying.

Jimmy Pitaro, who was appointed president of the network in March 2018, has often been saddled with accusations of bringing a “stick to sports” mantra to Bristol. While the network has covered President Trump’s tweets and comments when they relate directly to sports, for the most part the network rarely delves into social issues.

That hasn’t been the case in the last two weeks though. Coverage of protests around the country have not been limited to Stephen Jackson’s friendship with George Floyd, pointing out which athletes are at marches, or reaction to Drew Brees’s comments about players kneeling during the national anthem.

“What you’ve seen, heard and read across ESPN outlets over the past week is a meaningful reflection of the profoundly intense and personal array of emotions sweeping through the collective consciousness of our audience,” senior vice president and editor-at-large of ESPN Content, Rob King said.

ESPN personalities like Maria Taylor, Elle Duncan, and Booger McFarland have been free to talk about their experiences with racism and share their opinions on current situations.

“You know, I think that ESPN realizes that we are in a seminal moment in history and everyone is going to look back and wonder what side of history are you going to fall on?” Taylor told Deitsch. “I think that everyone’s realizing it, from the NFL and Commissioner (Roger) Goodell down to every major company and ESPN is included. If we are silent now or if we silence our employees now, then that will be the wrong move. The only acceptable way to deal with this moment is to accept wrongs and allow us to have open conversations and be a part of the solution that moves this country forward, because right now it’s really hurting.”

The position is very different from 2017, when then-SC6 Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks after ESPN said she violated the network’s social media policy. After Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he would bench any player that knelt during the national anthem, Hill tweeted about a possible boycott of the team’s sponsors.

Hill told Deitsch that ESPN’s reaction to this moment isn’t causing feelings of jealousy or frustration. In fact, she says that she feels relief in seeing her former employer and other sports outlets embrace the conversation.

“The reaction of black athletes to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd certainly didn’t give them any choice, but I’m pleasantly surprised that these outlets didn’t rush to get past it. They devoted some thoughtful, honest conversation to a difficult issue,” Hill said. What I hope these outlets learned is that not only can it lead to good television and reporting and be valuable information for readers and viewers, but that asking their black employees to remain distanced from these kinds of conversations is unrealistic.”

Sports TV News

FOX Sports Sees Record-Setting Ratings Weekend

The World Cup matchup between the U.S. and England on Black Friday and Michigan/Ohio State on Saturday saw tens of millions of viewers tuning in.

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FOX Sports has been home to a number of record-setting games in terms of viewership over the last several days.

In addition to FOX Sports setting a new mark for a Thanksgiving and regular season NFL audience, the World Cup matchup between the U.S. and England on Black Friday and Michigan/Ohio State on Saturday saw tens of millions of viewers tuning in.

The network reported the U.S./England match in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup averaged 15.377 million. It was the most-watched English-language soccer game in the U.S. ever, topping the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil.

Viewership of the match was up 11% compared to the second group stage contest for the U.S. team in 2014 against Portugal. The audience peaked at 19.646 million from 3:30-3:45 p.m.

FOX Sports also reported the Michigan/Ohio State game on Saturday drew in 17 million, which made it the most-watched regular season college game on the network ever. That figure was also the highest of any regular season contest since 2011. That game also saw the audience peak at 19.6 million.

Viewership for the game was up 3% compared to last year.

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Sports TV News

ESPN Bowl Plans Could Be Altered By NFL Flex Scheduling

“While this situation poses a challenge, we are accustomed to flexibility and having to maneuver our event schedules.”

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ESPN could be forced to adjust its upcoming bowl season schedule if the NFL decides to flex a Las Vegas Raiders game a week before Christmas.

ESPN announced its contingency plans for two bowl contests, the Las Vegas Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl is currently planned to kick off from Allegiant Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on December 17. The Raiders right now are still planning to play in the Sunday night game the next night against the Patriots.

Should the NFL decide to flex the Raiders out of the SNF window, ESPN will swap kickoff times between the Las Vegas Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. That would mean the game in sin city will kick off at 11:30 a.m. local time, with the contest in Albuquerque starting at 5:20 p.m. local time that evening.

“The SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl and New Mexico Bowl are both owned and operated by ESPN Events, so this change is a solution that will work for all parties,” ESPN Events vice president Clint Overby said. “While this situation poses a challenge, we are accustomed to flexibility and having to maneuver our event schedules. We are more than prepared to move forward with this revised schedule if necessary.”

Kickoff times will be determined well enough ahead that the schools taking part in both games shouldn’t be adversely affected.

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Sports TV News

NFL Thanksgiving Games Set Ratings Records

FOX Sports added that viewership was up 49% compared to 2021.

Jordan Bondurant

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The Thanksgiving slate of NFL games last week brought in the largest audiences ever. Viewership across all three games averaged 33.5 million.

The game with the largest viewership was Giants/Cowboys in the 4:30 p.m. window. FOX Sports reported that 42 million watched Dallas beat New York 28-20. It is the largest regular season audience ever, surpassing the previous leader set 32 years ago.

The network added that viewership was up 49% compared to 2021. FOX carried the Detroit Lions traditional noon Thanksgiving game last year. Compared to the Cowboys turkey day contest on CBS in 2021, viewership was up 3%.

The Bills/Lions game in the early window on CBS averaged 31.627 million, with the audience peaking at 41.981 million. It was the most-watched early Thanksgiving game on record.

Patriots/Vikings on NBC in the nightcap averaged 25.9 million. That figure was up 24% compared to Bills/Saints a year ago, with NBC Sports claiming it’s the second most-watched primetime Thanksgiving game on record. The game was simulcast in Spanish on Telemundo, which averaged 565,000 viewers and made it the most-watched NFL game ever on the network.

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